To celebrate the paperback release (this week) of Helen Giltrow’s fabulous debut thriller – THE DISTANCE – I’m re-running my review of this brilliant book ...
What the blurb says: “Charlotte Alton has put her old life behind her. The life where she bought and sold information, unearthing secrets buried too deep for anyone else to find, or fabricating new identities for people who need their histories erased.
But now she has been offered one more job. To get a hit-man into an experimental new prison and take out someone who according to the records isn’t there at all.
It’s impossible. A suicide mission. And quite possibly a set-up. So why can’t she say no?”
This is a stylish, espionage-type thriller with a bold and courageous female lead character. Karla (and her alter-ego Charlotte Alton) is super-smart, brave and principled (in her own very distinct way). She is the best of the best at helping people who want to disappear, and is herself a master of disguise.
But this job is different. To get a hit-man into ‘The Programme’ – an experimental prison that is meant to be impossible to break in or out of, and the hit-man is Johanssen – a guy she has a history with.
Karla takes the job, but as Johanssen assumes a new identity in order to enter The Programme, Karla gets increasingly suspicious of the client and their motives. The target of the hit is a woman, and the only information they have on her is a photo and an assurance that she did ‘something bad’. Yet she seemingly has no identity, no history, and there is no record of her being inside the prison. Still, Karla has seen the CCTV footage – she knows that the target is inside and very much exists.
Concerned for Johanssen’s safety, Karla digs deeper to find the identity of the target and, in doing so, unravels the complex web of lies, bribes and murder. As she gets closer to uncovering the violent truth hidden behind the hit, Karla, and those close to her, become targets.
Set in the near future and played out over twenty-four days, the story is packed with tension. It’s told in the present tense, which adds to the momentum, and hammers along at a tremendous pace. The plot twists and turns, then twists some more and turns again, ramping up the suspense page by page. A great read, it had me hooked from the first page to the last.
Dark, edgy and, at times, brutal, this is a stylish and highly original debut.
[I bought my copy of The Distance]